Iraq war and occupationBush has not announced any decision, and sources say he will not until after the new year begin, but he has asked his staff to work out the details. Bush has all but completed his highly marketed "listening tour," ostensibly designed to give Bush the opportunity to listen to differing viewpoints on the war as a prelude to a major policy change, but more pragmatically to give Bush cover from the unpalatable characterizations and recommendations by the Iraq Study Group. Bush will meet on December 14 with senior defense officials at the Pentagon. Today Bush meets with General John Abizaid, the US commander of military forces in the Middle East, and General George Casey, the top general in Iraq, along with other senior military officers. Both want more armored vehicles, body armor, and other critical equipment. Both urge Bush to pour much more money into equipment for Iraqi security forces. Abizaid has repeatedly said that sending more troops into Iraq for whatever reason would accomplish little besides putting more soldiers' lives at risk. But the message from everyone Bush has met with is that any idea of withdrawing troops from Iraq by early 2008, as the Iraq Study Group recommended, is a poor one, because Iraqis will not be ready to assume control of their country. According to a defense official familiar with the content of the meetings, Bush is delaying making public his new Iraq policy plan in part to allow officials to work out the funding. Incoming Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says that the delay in unveiling the new policy is unacceptable. "It has been six weeks since the American people demanded change in Iraq," he says. "In that time Iraq has descended further toward all-out civil war and all the president has done is fire Donald Rumsfeld and conduct a listening tour. Talking to the same people he should have talked to four years ago does not relieve the president of the need to demonstrate leadership and change his policy now."
Congressional DemocratsRodriguez, widely acknowledged as having the makings of an excellent lawmaker but an admittedly poor campaigner, says, "I think [it was] the trend throughout the country. I think they're fed up...they elect us to go out there and solve problems, not create any more." Rodriguez won the runoff by a solid 54-46 margin. The 23rd District was redrawn in October after the Texas Supreme Court ruled that the district's boundaries were unconstitutional. As a result, the city of Laredo was no longer split between two districts, and the 23rd added a significant number of Hispanic voters. The 2003 reconfiguration of the district unconstitutionally diluted minority voters by splitting Laredo, a city with a large Hispanic majority, into the two districts. Both Bonilla and Rodriguez are Mexican-Americans, but the trend in 2006 has shown Hispanics largely voting Democrat. In the final days of the runoff campaign, an increasingly desperate Bonilla, trying to combat his slide in the polls, Bonilla launched a negative TV ad over the final days of the campaign attempting to link Rodriguez to terrorists. The move backfired, alienating voters. Adding Bonilla's staunch defense of indicted Republican Majority Leader Tom DeLay, and, as San Antonio Express-News columnist Jaime Castillo writes, "Bonilla wound up looking like another tone-deaf Republican who would rather stick by controversial friends and policies rather than bend to public sentiment." (KSAT-TV, San Antonio Express-News)
Iraq war and occupationThe impulse to blame the al-Maliki government may be one of the only things, besides a marketing slogan, that Bush and his officials take from the recently released Iraq Study Group report, which calls on Bush to withhold US assistance from Baghdad unless it makes progress on fulfilling a long list of US-imposed "milestones." "You could call it 'blame and run,' says Bzrezinski. "It is based on a pervasive illusion that there is such a thing as an Iraqi government. The more we blame it for doing things it cannot do, the more impotent it will become. 'Blame and run' is self-fulfilling." Strobe Talbott, head of the bipartisan Brookings Institution, agrees. In a speech last week, Talbott criticized the view that Baghdad could be pressed to make changes such as disarming the sectarian militias by threatening to withhold military, political or economic aid. The ISG report states that Baghdad must prove that it "deserves future aid." Talbott disagrees. "The logic of that pressure tactic -- that is, why it should work with the Iraqis -- is not clear, since most of them want us out [of Iraq]. The logic on our own side, however, is very clear indeed: having pre-emptively invaded their country, let's pre-emptively blame them for the mess we've made of it." But the idea isn't restricted to just Bush supporters. Democratic senator Barack Obama, who opposed the invasionj from the outset, implied in a recent speech that Baghdad is suffering from welfare dependency. "No more coddling, no more equivocation," he said. "Our best hope for success is to pressure the Iraqi leadership to finally come to a political agreement between the warring factions that can create some sense of stability in the country and bring this conflict under control." Obama's fellow Senate Democrat, Hillary Clinton, says that America's credibility is being held hostage by the Iraqi government. "We need to press consistently, privately and publicly the Iraqis to become serious about achieving an internal reconciliation and political solution, and present real consequences for their failing to do so," she said.
Partisan Bush appointeesHalf of the bank's 29 highest-level executives have departed since Wolfowitz took office in June 2005. Among them is Christiaan Poortman, vice president for the Middle East and a 30-year World Bank veteran, who left in September after resisting pressure to speed up the pace of lending and adding staff in Iraq. "It was very sad to see someone of Mr. Poortman's caliber leaving," says Eckhard Deutscher, one of 24 executive directors who oversee the management of the Washington-based lender. "The bank needs to be very careful not to lose too much of its human capital." An increasing number of nations are expressing reluctance to contribute to the World Bank because of their unhappiness with Wolfowitz. The exodus is damaging the world's leading poverty-fighting institution, which provided $23.6 billion last year for projects such as schools and clinics, say directors and outside observers.
Conservative media slantNorth is in the Iraqi city of Ramadi where he yuks it up about having a "pot shot" taken at his convoy by an apparent insurgent, who, according to North, had "apparently...been trained by the French, perhaps the French Girl Scouts or by one of your friends, Alan," referring to Fox's token "liberal," Alan Colmes. North, trying desperately to paint the insurgency as a group of incompetents merely good for a few laughs, and taking the usual swipes at liberals and the French, fails to inform Fox viewers of the context of his little incursion. Attacks on US troops are at their highest levels since the March 2003 invasions, and the number of US deaths is rapidly approaching 3,000. Worse, he failed to report that three soldiers who had just escorted North and his Fox crew into Ramadi were killed just days before his broadcast. One of the three dead is Major Megan McClung, the highest-ranking female US soldier to be killed in Iraq since the invasion. While real journalists often go out in Iraq without a military escort, North insisted that his precious hide be protected by a group of soldiers. McClurg had won praise from other journalists who she had helped escort through some of the most dangerous sections of Iraq.
Conservative hate speech and intoleranceRutz, who claims to eat only organic health foods, writes, "Soybean products are feminizing, and they're all over the place. You can hardly escape them anymore." Rutz says that soy-based foods such as tofu contain "substantial quantities of estrogens. Estrogens are female hormones. If you're a woman, you're flooding your system with a substance it can't handle in surplus. If you're a man, you're suppressing your masculinity and stimulating your 'female side,' physically and mentally." There's just enough fact in Rutz's rantings to make them believable to some: "In fetal development, the default is being female. All humans (even in old age) tend toward femininity. The main thing that keeps men from diverging into the female pattern is testosterone, and testosterone is suppressed by an excess of estrogen. If you're a grownup, you're already developed, and you're able to fight off some of the damaging effects of soy. Babies aren't so fortunate. Research is now showing that when you feed your baby soy formula, you're giving him or her the equivalent of five birth control pills a day. A baby's endocrine system just can't cope with that kind of massive assault, so some damage is inevitable. At the extreme, the damage can be fatal." Rutz does not cite the research he claims to use, and no reputable scientist has published anything approaching Rutz's hysteria-based conclusions.
Iraq war and occupation(See previous entries on this page about Saudi citizens already funding Iraqi militants.) Saudi Arabia is a predominantly Sunni country. The White House denies that the Sauds would do any such thing. "That's not Saudi government policy," says press secretary Tony Snow; the Sauds also deny the story. Previously, Saudi Arabian officials had promised US officials that it would not intervene to assist the Sunni insurgents in Iraq, but Saudi officials now say that promise might not hold if US troops leave Iraq. The Bush administration has repeatedly said there are no plans for the immediate pullout of US troops. According to a New York Times report, Saudi King Abdullah issued the warning to Vice President Dick Cheney two weeks ago during Cheney's visit to Riyadh. The message also emphasized the kingdom's displeasure with proposed talks between the US government and Iran. Major General William Caldwell, the main military spokesman in Iraq, says, "I don't think that came from the government of Saudi Arabia. And what the government of Saudi Arabia said was that was not an official position of their government and that the person who spoke, spoke out of place and has since then been removed from his position even." Rich private Saudi citizens are already funnelling money to Sunni insurgents in Iraq, through charitable donations and by trucks carrying pilgrims and their luggage between the two countries. In turn, Iran is believed to be providing military and financial support to the Shi'ites in Iraq. Saudi Arabia has expressed concern that once US troops leave Iraq that the controlling Shi'ite majority could massacre the Sunni minority, believed to comprise a large faction of the deadly insurgency that has claimed thousands of Iraqi civilian and US military lives. Saudi Arabia's fears seems to have been exacerbated by growing discussions in Washington aimed at accelerating the timeframe for bringing troops home. (New York Times/AP/Yahoo! News)
Terrorism detainees and "enemy combatants"The report says that interrogators attempted to deprive one detainee, Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, a Qatari citizen and former student in Peoria, Illinoi, of sleep and religious comfort by taking away his Koran, warm food, mattresses and pillow as part of an interrogation plan approved by the high-level Joint Forces Command. Interrogators also prevented the International Committee of the Red Cross from visiting at least one detainee. The report goes on to note evidence of other unspecified, unauthorized interrogation techniques. The report by the Navy's inspector general was presented to then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in May 2004 and was declassified in 2005. It was the first to raise the question of mistreatment of alleged enemy combatants inside the United States. Its details about conditions at the Navy brig in 2004 could prove critical to the fate of two of the "enemy combatant" detainees who spent years in the prison: Al-Marri, the only one of the three who remains there and is facing the prospect of a special military trial, and Jose Padilla, a Brooklyn-born US citizen now facing criminal charges in Miami.
Terrorism detainees and "enemy combatants"Rauf still faces charges of fraud and possession of a fake passport, both of which will be pursued in a normal court. Rauf's lawyer told the press today that the prosecution had claimed Rauf was in possession of 29 bottles of the chemical hydrogen peroxide, which was meant to be used to blow up the passenger jets. "But they failed to produce any evidence to support the allegations," says lawyer Hasmat Habib. "This chemical is also used to heal wounds." At the time of his arrest in Pakistan this summer, US authorities described Rauf as the ringleader who was essentially running the plot by remote control from Pakistan. Authorities say they were able to track his phone calls back to London and wire transfers of money for the suicide bombers' plane tickets. Pakistani authorities arrested Rauf in cooperation with British authorities, saying he was found near the border with Afghanistan and had direct ties to al-Qaeda. (ABC News)
Secrecy of Bush administrationTo make the visitor records public would be an "unprecedented intrusion into the daily operations of the vice presidency," the Justice Department argues in a brief to the US Court of Appeals in the District of Columbia. The argument is in response to an October order by US district court judge Ricardo Urbina to release two years of White House visitor logs to the Washington Post, which is attempting to research the access lobbyists such as Jack Abramoff had on the White House. The Post wants to see Secret Service records for anyone visiting Cheney, his legal counsel, chief spokesman and other top aides and advisers. Urbina ruled against the government's primary argument, that the logs are protected by Cheney's right to executive privilege. A lawsuit over similar records revealed in September that Republican activists Grover Norquist and Ralph Reed -- key figures in the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal -- landed more than 100 meetings inside the Bush White House, making it plain what the real reason is for attempting to keep the logs secret. (AP/Yahoo! News)
Congressional DemocratsIf Johnson dies or is unable to perform his duties as a senator, South Dakota's governor Michael Rounds, a Republican, would most likely name a Republican to replace Johnson, creating a 50-50 split in the Senate and giving Republicans control of the chamber. Vice President Dick Cheney would cast any tie-breaking votes. After Johnson undergoes emergency brain surgery, the attending physician of the Capitol, Admiral John Eisold, says, "Senator Tim Johnson was found to have had an intracerebral bleed caused by a congenital arteriovenous malformation. The senator is recovering without complication. ...It is premature to determine whether further surgery will be required or to assess any long-term prognosis." A congenital arteriovenous malformation means Johnson was born with a tangle of blood vessels, in this case in his brain. Johnson is taken to George Washington University Hospital with stroke-like symptoms after he verbally stumbled and seemed confused in a radio interview with reporters. The Senate historian's office says the only way there would be a vacancy to fill is if Johnson died or resigned, since even if incapacitated, he could remain in office. Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the incoming speaker in the new, Democratic-majority House of Representatives, refuses to speculate on any possible changes, and incoming Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who spends considerable time at Johnson's bedside, says that Johnson "looks great."
Middle East peace processNelson says Assad is willing to help control the Iraq-Syria border. Nelson, a member of the Armed Services and Foreign Relations committees, meets with Assad even after the State Department said that it disapproved of his trip. The United States has limited diplomatic ties with Syria because of its support of Hezbollah and Hamas, which the US deems terrorist organizations, and Bush has repeatedly said he refuses to seek help from Damascus on Iraq until the Syrians curb that support and reduce their influence in Lebanon. "Assad clearly indicated the willingness to cooperate with the Americans and or the Iraqi army to be part of a solution" in Iraq, Nelson says following the meeting. The US says foreign fighters often enter Iraq across that boundary. Syrian officials have repeatedly indicated a willingness to engage the US in discussions about Iraq, which the Bush administration has treated with skepticism. Nelson said he views Assad's remarks as "a crack in the door for discussions to continue. I approach this with realism not optimism." Three other senators -- Democrats John Kerry and Christopher Dodd, and Republican Arlen Specter, have visits planned to Damascus as well. "We don't think that members of Congress ought to be going there," White House press secretary Tony Snow says, and adds that the United States continues to denounce Syria's meddling in Lebanon and its ties to terrorist groups. Specter says he ignored a request from Condoleezza Rice not to go to Syria: "I deferred to them a year ago, and I deferred to them last August," he says. "And if there were any signs the administrative policy [in the Middle East] was working, I'd defer to them again." Specter, who has visited Syria many times in the past, says it is past time to open diplomatic dialogues with both Syria and Iran.
Iraq war and occupationWhen asked what the Democrats should do to fix Iraq, the incoming chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Charles Rangel, gives a pithy summation of many Democrats' feelings on the matter: "I never understand that question. You have a President that's in deep sh*t. He got us into the war, and all the reasons he gave have been proven invalid, and the whole electorate was so pissed off that they got rid of anyone they could have, and then they ask, 'What is the Democrats' solution?'" Many Congressional Democrats are reluctant to take on the issue too strongly, for fear that they will be tarred with what up till now has been a Republican-only scandal. "The question is, are you just going to fold up and leave regardless of the situation on the ground, or can you, through diplomacy, try and craft a more favorable exit?" asks likely presidential nominee Wesley Clark, the former military head of NATO and the prime negotiator of the Dayton Accords that brought peace to Kosovo. But unlike many Democrats, Clark opposes the idea of a timeline for withdrawing troops from Iraq. He is joined by likely Democratic presidential frontrunner Senator Hillary Clinton, who has fought for more body armor and supplies for the troops but has refused, like Clark, to endorse any timetable for withdrawal. On the Republican side, Senator John McCain has staked out his own position, apparently embraced by the Bush administration, of sending more troops to Iraq to secure the chaotic city of Baghdad. But it is likely that whoever ends up running for president for the Democrats will win in part because of his or her opposition to the war. "Certainly the Democratic Party in 2008, if this war is still going on, will have a fiercely anti-war candidate as its nominee, and that begins to exclude certain people who are assumed now to be favorites," says Jeffrey Laurenti, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation. "And so there is a powerful incentive for finding some way to diffuse this and get this off the political agenda."
Secrecy of Bush administrationNew rules require screening of all facts and interpretations by agency scientists who study everything from caribou mating to global warming. The rules apply to all scientific papers and other public documents, even minor reports or prepared talks. Top officials at the Interior Department's scientific arm say the rules only standardize what scientists must do to ensure the quality of their work and give a heads-up to the agency's public relations staff. "This is not about stifling or suppressing our science, or politicizing our science in any way," says Barbara Wainman, the agency's director of communications. "I don't have approval authority. What it was designed to do is to improve our product flow." But the truth is very different. USGS marine biologist Jim Estes says, "I feel as though we've got someone looking over our shoulder at every damn thing we do. And to me that's a very scary thing. I worry that it borders on censorship." Estes continues, "The explanation was that this was intended to ensure the highest possible quality research. But to me it feels like they're doing this to keep us under their thumbs. It seems like they're afraid of science. Our findings could be embarrassing to the administration." The new requirements state that the USGS's communications office must be "alerted about information products containing high-visibility topics or topics of a policy-sensitive nature." The agency's director, Mark Myers, and its communications office also must be told -- prior to any submission for publication -- "of findings or data that may be especially newsworthy, have an impact on government policy, or contradict previous public understanding to ensure that proper officials are notified and that communication strategies are developed."
Iraq war and occupationWhile Baghdad burns, Bush holds "a series of carefully stage-managed meetings with officials and outside experts whose common credential appeared to be their opposition to the recommendations of James Baker's Iraq Study Group." And the White House is telling reporters to wait, not till around Christmas, but until early next year, for any word of Bush's new strategy. Press secretary Tony Snow recently told reporters. "it's a complex business, and there are a lot of things to take into account.... [Bush] wants to make sure it's done right." The Times opines, "We are more than eager for this White House to finally get something right on Iraq. But we find it chilling to imagine that Mr. Bush and his advisers have only now begun a full policy review, months after Iraq plunged into civil war and years after experts began warning that the administration's strategy was not working."
Iraq war and occupation"The Iraq Study Group (ISG) didn't tell George W. Bush what he wanted to hear, so now Bush is doing what any spoiled brat would: he is asking someone else instead in hopes of getting a different answer. For the last few weeks, Bush has been arranging carefully staged meetings with various 'experts,' and all of these folks just happen to share his views on Iraq: boost troops and escalate." Bush first met with five academics and retired generals who all reject the ISG report and want to increase the US presence in Iraq; one, Eliot Cohen, is a professor who wields great influence among neoconservatives and is a protege of Paul Wolfowitz. Cohen is one of those calling the "war on terror" World War III. The Buzzflash editors write, "Leave it to the very people that got us into this quagmire to endorse escalation as a way out. Leave it to Bush to listen to them yet again. The man is trying to dig his way out of his own hole, and he isn't even using a different shovel from the one that got him there to start with."
Iraq war and occupationThey freely admit they have no proof of their speculation, but it seems plausible. The Saudi threat, they write, "sure sounds bad for world security. But it sounds great for the Bush Administration. Saudi Arabia's pledge not to intervene in Iraq is contingent on our presence, so now -- the argument becomes -- we have to stay to avoid an even nastier civil war and increased destabilization across the region." According to the New York Times, one of the reasons Dick Cheney recently visited Saudi ruler Abdullah was to personally receive the threat. Few details of what Abdullah and Cheney discussed are available, but, as Buzzflash observes, "Saudi Arabia has religious ties to the Iraqi Sunnis, and they also score points at home by opposing the US. They would love to get as much of a claim on oil profits as possible, and ties to a favorable Sunni Iraqi government would help. The Bush Administration, on the other hand, needs any excuse it can come up with for why we need to keep troops in Iraq. Many Americans may be persuaded -- perhaps reasonably -- that Saudi intervention in Iraq might be a bad thing, and that we should therefore let the Saudis hold us hostage by staying. The Bush family has very close ties to the Saudi rulers, and such collaboration would not be the first time they tried to help each other out. There is no way to know precisely what was discussed in the Abdullah-Cheney meeting, but we should certainly be suspicious of sudden, secret meetings with Middle Eastern monarchs regarding Iraq, especially when the Bush Administration, Iraq, and oil are involved." (Buzzflash)
Iraq war and occupationThe chiefs do not favor adding significant numbers of troops to Iraq, but see strengthening the Iraqi army as pivotal to achieving some degree of stability. They also are pressing for a much greater US effort on economic reconstruction and political reconciliation. General George Casey, the US's top military commander in Iraq, is reviewing a plan to redefine the American military mission there: US troops would be pulled out of Iraqi cities and consolidated at a handful of US bases while day-to-day combat duty would be turned over to the Iraqi army. The recommendations Casey is reviewing to overhaul the military mission were formulated by Lieutenant General Peter Chiarelli, the outgoing top US ground commander. The plan positions the US military to be able to move swiftly to a new focus on training, one of the key recommendations from several reviews of US strategy. Under the plan developed by Chiarelli's staff, the military would shift about half of its 15 combat brigades away from battling insurgents and sectarian violence and into training Iraqi security forces as soon as the spring of 2007. In northern and western Iraq, US commanders are already moving troops out of combat missions to place them as advisers with lower-level Iraqi army units.
US militaryNoting the strain put on the force by operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere in the global war on terrorism, Schoomaker says he wants to grow his half-million-member Army beyond the 30,000 troops already added in recent years. Though he didn't give an exact number, he says it would take significant time and commitment by the nation, noting some 6,000 to 7,000 soldiers could be added per year. Officials also need greater authority to tap into the National Guard and Reserve, long ago set up as a strategic reserve but now needed as an integral part of the nation's deployed forces, Schoomaker tells a commission studying possible changes in those two forces. "Over the last five years, the sustained strategic demand...is placing a strain on the Army's all-volunteer force," Schoomaker tells the commission. "At this pace...we will break the active component" unless reserves can be called up more to help, he says. After the commission hearings, Schoomaker says General George Casey, the top commander in Iraq, is looking at several military options for the war, including shifting many troops from combat missions to training Iraqi units. However, Schoomaker says, the military is more interested in getting the Iraqi security forces up to speed than anything. Above all else, the military is looking at "how we generate Iraqi output," he says. The Army in recent days has been looking at how many additional troops could be sent to Iraq, if the president decides a surge in forces would be helpful. But, officials say, only about 10,000 to 15,000 troops could be sent and an end to the war would have to be in sight because it would drain the pool of available soldiers for combat. Further, many experts warn, there is no guarantee a surge would work to settle the violence. "We would not surge without a purpose," Schoomaker says. "And that purpose should be measurable." (AP/Yahoo! News)
War with IranThe revelation comes as part of the story of tension between Bandar and his successor as ambassador to the US, Prince Turki al-Faisal, who resigned as ambassador this week. Turki's resignation hints at a major power struggle between the families of Bandar and Turki, two of the most powerful factions of the Saudi ruling apparatus. Sources confirm that Turki resigned as ambassador not only because of conflicts with Bandar, but because of Bandar's signals that Saudi Arabia would accept American military action against Iran. Cheney is one of the strongest advocates for military strikes against Iran in the Bush administration, a position supported by Bandar. Turki has attempted to chart a more pragmatic course away from the Bush sycophancy demonstrated by Bandar and his associates, particularly his deputy, Rihab Massoud. (AP/Huffington Post)
Terrorism detainees and "enemy combatants"Robertson upholds the portion of the law that says foreign prisoners held in the Guantanamo Bay detention facility do not have the right to access to US courts. He rules that the law's denial of that right to over 12 million legal immigrants living in the US is unconstitutional. In June, the Supreme Court ruled that no Constitutional provision or legal precept allows Hamdan not to have access to the US judiciary; in response, the Bush administration worked with Republicans in Congress to draft the MCA. The high court's justices said President Bush had overstepped his power when he created a system of military tribunals for foreign-born alleged terrorists. The MCA allows for just such tribunals, and also denies access to any immigrants, legal or illegal, who are accused by the president of being terrorists or "unlawful combatants." Critics say the provision was written so broadly that it took away legal immigrants' right of habeas corpus, the right that allows people who are arrested and imprisoned to go before a judge and plead for freedom. The incoming chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Patrick Leahy, says he will subpoena Bush administration officials if they refuse requests for documents and testimony, including two long-sought memos detailing its detention and treatment of terror suspects overseas. One is a presidential order signed by Bush authorizing the Central Intelligence Agency to set up secret prisons outside the United States to house terrorism suspects. The other is a 2002 Justice Department memorandum outlining "aggressive interrogation techniques" that could be used against terror suspects. Both are subjects that came under discussion during the debate over the MCA. "I expect to get the answers. If I don't...then I really think we should subpoena," he says. (seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/nationworld/2003476629_detainees14.html)
Oil profiteering and the "oiligarchy"The move will ensure higher gas prices in the US and around the world. OPEC, which pumps a third of the world's crude-oil, helped stabilize falling oil prices back in October when it announced a cut of 1.2 million barrels a day. But expectations of slower economic growth and a non-OPEC supply surge in 2007 means the market is still vulnerable to a price collapse. To prevent that, OPEC is sending a clear signal to the market and energy traders have reacted, sending oil prices up by more than $1 a barrel. Wood Mackenzie oil analyst Ann-Louise Hittle describes OPEC's action as "an aggressive approach" intended to put a floor underneath prices. By delaying the cut until February, however, the cartel is leaving itself a window to change its mind if demand spikes due to a colder-than-expected winter or a stronger economy. Even though the decision doesn't take place until February, consumers are already seeing the effects at the pump and on their energy bills. (AP/Yahoo! News)
Secrecy of Bush administrationThe government is using a grand jury subpoena, typically used to uncover evidence, in an attempt to actually confiscate evidence. Such a use of a grand jury subpoena is unprecedented and possibly illegal. The subpoena issued to the ACLU demands "any and all copies" of a document e-mailed to it unsolicited in October, indicating that the government also wants to prevent further dissemination of the information in the document. If successful, the subpoena will grant the federal government wide new constraints on the Constitutional prohibition of prior restraint on publications. The ACLU says the document is unremarkable, and its disclosure would be only mildly embarrassing to the government. It also says that the document "has nothing to do with national defense." Rodney Smolla, dean of the University of Richmond's law school, says, "The government may be wanting to have its cake and eat it, too. It may want to present this to the court as not carrying heavy First Amendment implications. But to the extent the government wants to prevent the ACLU from disclosing the content of the document by virtue of this subpoena, it is a prior restraint." But law professor John Eastman says the move is not improper, and says "the government is bending over backwards to accommodate the ACLU rather than pulling the trigger in prosecuting them. I'm not troubled by the fact that when we're dealing with classified documents there may be action taken to retrieve them."
Congressional oversightShe says that such a panel will "protect the American people with the best possible intelligence, recognizing the role that Congress plays in all of this." Under the Republican leadership in the previous Congress, there was little or no Congressional oversight of US intelligence agencies. The proposed Select Intelligence Oversight Panel would be part of the powerful Appropriations Committee and would draw its membership from that spending committee and the Select Committee on Intelligence. Through a series of hearings, it would examine Bush's intelligence budget, prepare the classified details to the annual defense spending bill and conduct oversight of the use of appropriated funds by intelligence agencies. A Democratic member of the commission, former Representative Timothy Roemer, says the change would achieve the commission's two major goals: forcing spy agencies to disclose more to Congress, which they often have ignored, and linking the expanded oversight to the power of the purse. "This is a major step forward in terms of correcting some of the dysfunction on Capitol Hill," Roemer says.
Jack Abramoff scandalCochran, a powerful Republican who until this year controlled the Senate Appropriations Committee and steered billions of federal dollars, is called in one e-mail from an Abramoff lobbyist the man who had "never said no." One of Abramoff's contracts was to represent the Choctaw Indians in Cochran's home state of Mississippi. (See earlier entries for how systematically Abramoff and his firm looted the various Indian tribes he pretended to represent.) In the e-mail, obtained by watchdog site TPM Muckraker, one of Abramoff's lobbyists made a strong pitch for contributions to Cochran in the midst of his 2002 re-election campaign because "Sen. Cochran's office [had] never said 'no'" to the Mississippi Choctaw, the casino-owning tribe that was one of Abramoff's prime clients since the beginning of his lobbying career. "[W]e have been hitting them up for projects almost everyday [sic] the last couple of months," Abramoff associate Todd Boulanger wrote of Cochran's office. Abramoff and his associates had already donated thousands to Cochran's campaign committee at the time of the email. That was "good," Boulanger allowed, "but not good enough for the member who keeps the lights turned on here at Greenberg,." referring to Abramoff's law firm, Greenberg Traurig. The Choctaw paid Abramoff and his firm millions of dollars per year for his services. "I know it's pricey," Boulanger concluded, "but nobody comes even close (except for Doolittle, maybe) to doing as much for our main clients as Senator Cochran." Boulanger is referring to House member and fellow Republican John Doolittle. After the e-mail, which called for contributions from Abramoff's team members and clients, they contributed thousands of dollars to Cochran's leadership political committee, The Senate Victory Fund.